Need a leader?

Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.” – 1 Corinthians 11:1

Need a story of hope, today? Try this:

God had chosen David to be the next king of Israel, but King Saul was mad and determined to kill David before that could happen. Early in David’s fugitive life, supporters began to gather. Before long, he has a ragtag “army” of about 600 men.

And “ragtag” might be the right word. The Bible tells us they were people who were in debt, distressed, and/or “bitter in soul”. David must have sighed deeply when they met for their first strategy meeting! These were all people who had been battered by life and were, in fact, not responding well to their circumstances.

Fast forward a few years. By then, there were thirty choice soldiers known as “David’s Mighty Men”. The rest were the support team, but all were disciplined, useful, and loyal. They were willing to risk their lives for their leader. Many, in fact, became part of David’s leadership team when he was crowned as king of Israel.

Where are you today? Getting beat up by life? Finding some bitterness in your heart? Discouraged?

If there was hope for change for David’s ragtag men, there’s hope for you, too. Suggestion? Ask God for a modern-day David, a mentor, to walk alongside you, teach you, and encourage your relationship with God. You may be surprised at the amazing changes coming your way!

And, if your life is on an even keel, maybe you are the leader God is calling to help someone else. Be open to that call. You may be the change-agent someone else is crying out for today.

The authority by which the Christian leader leads is not power but love, not force but example, not coercion but reasoned persuasion.” – John Stott

Tired?

“I will satisfy the weary soul, and every languishing soul I will replenish.” – Jeremiah 31:25

My friend told me that when she was a new believer, she had a hunger for God’s Word and studied it daily. One day, after all four kids were off to school and her husband to the office, she opened her Bible and couldn’t focus. She decided to pray instead, asking God for direction. She heard his instruction as clearly as if he was speaking out loud: “Take a nap.”

So she did. Twenty minutes later, she awoke refreshed and then was able to read her Bible with focus and understanding.

Sometimes we expect too much of ourselves, forgetting that we live with fleshly bodies and active minds that get tired. They require rest, refreshment, and renewal. Even Jesus, when living on earth, needed to get away at time to rest and pray.

What is your deepest need today? Is it for an answer to prayer? Keep praying, but rest awhile, too. Is it energy for a new responsibility? Take it on only if you sense God’s clear direction to do so. Don’t over busy yourself outside of his perfect will for you. You may be accepting a role he has already assigned to someone else, and your jumping in would get in the way of his will for their lives.

There are days when our deepest need may be for rest – for our bodies and our souls. When you sense that is true, remember Jesus’ invitation, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28).

“Rest time is not wasted time. It is economy to gather fresh strength… It is wisdom to take occasional furlough. In the long run, we shall do more by sometimes doing less.” – Charles Spurgeon

Feeling foolish?

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes . . “ – Romans 1:16

The book of Revelation foretells destruction of everything man-made – governments, idols, economic systems – all created by the human mind and effort. In spite of learning, technology,  and advanced civilization, everyone described in Revelation 13 is conned by a charismatic, but deceitful, world leader, except the followers of Jesus.

Following Jesus is not a second-rate way of life. The way of the world can seem more intellectual, more complex, or more rational, but only the way of Jesus will bring what we need most – peace with God and peace in our souls. Jesus is the way of life, light, and truth.

Why do so many not see that? Why are the people described in Revelation so easily deceived by the world systems? Hear Ravi Zacharias: “A man rejects God neither because of intellectual demands nor because of the scarcity of evidence. A man rejects God because of a moral resistance that refuses to admit his need for God.”

Many in today’s world try to make Christianity appear foolish and Jesus’s followers as intellectually lacking. But, if Ravi is right, it’s not a matter of evidence, it’s a matter of the heart. A willingness to believe truth has to be there before truth can be clearly seen.

As Christians, we must be committed to knowing truth. At the same time, we should know that, while Christianity is intellectually defensible, it is about so much more than that. It is acknowledging the Creator and his right to our worship and allegiance. Once the submission barrier is crossed, truth becomes clear. Only God and a willing heart can make that happen.

A wise man may look ridiculous in the company of fools.” – Thomas Fuller

It’s a battle you can win.

But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. – 1 Corinthians 15:57

We often struggle with the way we behave, live, feel, or think. There are things we would like to change, but, after trying too many times to be better, some of us decide we simply are who we are, and there’s nothing we can do to change.

We have have have at issues that plagues us: bad habits, phobias, obsessions, fears, or substance misuse (alcohol, drugs, food, nicotine, caffeine, etc. ). We really don’t want these “enemies” in our lives, but we’ve decided they’re too big, too strong, or too comfortable to get rid of. So we live with them.

That sounds a lot to me like the rationale the Israelites gave when they stopped short of driving the idol-worshiping Canaanites out of the land of promise: They’re big, they’re strong, and we think we can just learn to get along with them. They forgot God and his strength. Do we, too?

With God, freedom can be ours. We can conquer the things that disturb us, weigh us down, distract from full life, and hold us back. We don’t have to live with our enemies!

It will take . . .

. . . consecrating ourselves to God,

. . . obeying his guidance (which often includes counsel and/or community), and

. . . persistence.

If we do these things, we make room for God to act on our behalf, and when he does, we find the enemy we face becomes a little weaker. Soon we notice we have strength to say “no” at least some of the time. When we can do that, we are on our way victory! We don’t have to settle for less than God’s best for us. Believe that.

“Willfulness must give way to willingness and surrender. Mastery must yield to mystery.” – Gerald May

Much more on this topic can be found Addiction and Grace, a book by Gerald May.

What? What? So what?

“Great peace have those who love your law; nothing can make them stumble.” – Psalm 119:165

The Bible is an amazing book, written long ago. Yet its message applies not only to those for whom it was originally written, but also to everyone today who is open to receiving its message.

The goal of reading the Bible is rarely just to learn about the stories, wisdom, and history it contains. For most of us, reading it is a personal journey as we seek to know God, his plan for this world, and his purposes for our individual lives.

In that quest, we don’t just read passages from the Bible, but we interact with them. Years ago, I was taught to ask three questions about the biblical texts as I read. Those three questions are What? What? and So what?* Easy to remember, right?

What? What does the text say? Does it tell a story, give instruction, or offer a perspective?

What? What does it mean? What is God’s purpose for including this passage in the Bible? Is there a new insight or understanding for me?

So what? Why does it matter? Will what I am reading make a difference in my life? Am I willing to let its message change me?

Let’s never stop reading the Bible, meditating on its words, and taking them into our heart for comfort, direction, and growth. Effective interaction with God through his word is a lifelong journey and one with great rewards.

“But the performance isn’t just about our own private pilgrimage. It’s about becoming agents of God’s new world – workers for justice, explorers of spirituality, makers and menders of relationships, creators of beauty. If God does indeed speak through scripture, he speaks in order to commission us for tasks like these.” – N. T. Wright

*From teacher, author, and pastor, Erwin Lutzer

#readingthebible

All He Wants You to Have

I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.” – Philippians 4:11b-12

Remember Joseph? Favored son of Jacob, he was sold by his jealous brothers as a slave and taken to Egypt where he was purchased by an official named Potiphar. Potiphar immediately recognized Joseph’s skills and put him in charge of his household. Potiphar’s wife tried to seduce Joseph (Genesis 39) and he refused her, citing all the responsibilities and all the possessions Potiphar had given him charge of, then stating that it included pretty much everything – except her.

Joseph knew Potiphar had given him everything he wanted him to have – and it didn’t include his wife. Instead of thinking about her all the time and finding ways to rationalize responding to her invitation, he walked away knowing that saying “no” would cost him something.

Think now of all our Master has entrusted into our hands: Possessions, finances, health, relationships, creation, evangelizing, and teaching. He, too, gives us everything he wants us to have. Dallas Willard taught that, as we grow closer to God and experience his many blessings, we “find it possible to take the absence of something from our lives as sufficient proof that we do not need it.”

We must be careful never to step outside the boundaries of God’s commands to go after something he has not given us. Living within God’s boundaries will result in satisfaction, contentment, and peace. And maybe that’s enough. 

“Contentment is one of the most distinguishing traits of the godly person, because a godly person has his heart focused on God rather than on possessions or position or power.” – Jerry Bridges

Speaking it

Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. – Hebrews 13:15

In his book Life without Lack, Dallas Willard says, “All relationships and kingdoms work by words, and the first act of faith is to speak.” We have to say something out loud.

OK, so what do we say? He has a suggestion for that, too: Praise. That really is an easy place to start if we want to build relationship with God, isn’t it? Think something he has created. Surely there is something to praise him for: sunrise, your dog, peaches, trees. Look around you and start with praise.

Or think about relationships in your life. Praise him for the people who matter to you and who have been placed beside you for a purpose. Thank him for his patience with you in those relationships.

Always start with praise. The Lord’s Prayer does when it acknowledges the holiness of God and his name. We do well to emulate that prayer. Then, after we have praised well, we can speak out other things: confession (Romans 10:9), requests, complaints (that’s OK – really – the psalmists do it), thanks, worship.

Do you see that it’s all about words? We cannot love God and relate to him with growing intimacy if we don’t use words. Words, as Willard says, are the tools by which all relationships and all kingdoms work – even the kingdom of God.

We can practice with praise (so easy!) and move on to the harder stuff from there. God will meet us where we are and invite us to keep on coming closer.

“Spiritual people are not those who engage in certain spiritual practices; they are those who draw their life from a conversational relationship with God.” ~ Dallas Willard

This is the way . . .

And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, “This is the way, walk in it,” when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left. – Isaiah 30:21

For some time now, I’ve kept a record of key dates in my life: Children, grandchildren, parents’ events, marriages, significant illnesses, personal crises, work history, new places, ministry involvement, publications. and so on. The list helps me keep track of experiences and the kinds of things that have shaped me. It also helps me see what I want to include in my future. We always need to be considering, “what’s next?”.

There’s scriptural precedence for this. I read Numbers 33 recently in which Moses recounts all the places the people of Israel had traveled from Egypt’s boundary until, 40 years later, they were once again on the edge of entering the land of promise. At the end of this recounting, God gave instructions for entering, conquering, and dividing the land. He gave them a backward look and then directed them forward. It’s almost as if he’s reminding them that what they were not ready for 40 years earlier, they are ready for now.

Where are you in your life today? Are you ready for a change you weren’t ready to face years ago? Do you feel you are on the edge of something new? That God is urging you forward into a new area of promise?

There may be value for all of us in the backward look personally, and also within organizations and even nations. We learn from mistakes, we see God’s hand at work, and we rejoice in his providence. Then we face forward once again and move on with confidence – forgiven, hopeful, wiser, and trusting.

“The only way to get rid of your past is to make a future of it. God will waste nothing” – Phillips Brooks

Sailing or Drifting?

“We must pay the most careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away.” – Hebrews 2:1

Years ago, I had a friend, Phyllis, who owned a small sailboat, and we shared some sunny afternoons on that boat, sailing across Spring Lake and back.

When we pushed out, Phyllis would choose a spot across the lake and set her sail toward that point, making corrections along the way to keep us on course. Working with the wind to move us in the right direction required constant attention. But we always reached our destination and always returned to our home port safely, and usually dry!

There is a spiritual truth here. Generally, we don’t turn around and sail away from God. Instead, we drift away. One day we wake up and realize how far we are from him. What can we do?

Be intentional: Phyllis always had her eye on the shore, skillfully keeping us on course. Spiritually, we need to keep God always in focus, adjusting our activities, decisions, and relationships to be constantly moving toward him. It won’t just happen. We have to work at it.

Pay attention: If we ever take our attention off the rudder or the sail, we drift and the results can be disastrous. We must not let distractions interfere with our goal.

If we have drifted away from God, let’s get back on course. We can place him in our mind’s eye and keep him there. Then we pay attention by filling our mind with the important and by not being distracted by the inconsequential. Set the sail and stay on course. He’s worth it!

“You either line yourself up with the Son of God . . .or you capitulate to the principle which governs the rest of the world.”– Elisabeth Elliott

What about the big kids?

“May the Lord direct your hearts into God’s love and Christ’s perseverance.” – 2 Thessalonians 3:5

If you have adult children, how’s your relationship with them? We watch and worry as they learn how to do life on their own. There’s a problem, though, when we think our grown-up kids are still ours to direct and protect. If we respect them as adults, we may need to rethink our role.

At some point we have to let them go, encourage them to grow on their own, quit worrying so much about them, and stop trying to be their Holy Spirit. We can do that pretty well when we approve of their decisions, but not so well when we think we know better than they do how they should be living their lives. Some of you can relate to that.  And you know in your soul you have to stop trying parent to another adult.

So, as we let go, what do we do? First, we give up trying to control. Then we put them into the hands of our loving heavenly Father and under the guidance of the all-wise Holy Spirit. If you are at a loss as to how to do that, here’s what I have prayed about my own grown-up kids. Maybe it will help you, too.

Lord help me to . . .

love them deeply as you do,

guide them wisely as you would,

listen to them carefully,

hear what they’re not saying,

hold them loosely so they can fly, and

keep them ever before you in my prayers.

Amen

 

“We may not say that we have the answers. Questions of how to conduct oneself as a Christian or how to serve as a Christian must be answered by life itself- the life of the individual in his direct responsible relationship to God.” – Elisabeth Elliott